Red Moxie Media Presentation





The broken windows theory is a criminological theory of the norm-setting and signaling effect of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behavior.

The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking, helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening.

The theory was introduced in a 1982 article by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.  The theory has been used as a motivation for several reforms in criminal policy, including the use of "stop, question, and frisk" by the New York City Police Department.

James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling first introduced the broken windows theory in an article titled Broken Windows, in the March 1982 The Atlantic Monthly. The title comes from the following example:

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.

Before the introduction of this theory by Wilson and Kelling, Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychologist, arranged an experiment testing the broken-window theory in 1969. Zimbardo arranged for an automobile with no license plates and the hood up to be parked idle in a Bronx neighborhood and a second automobile in the same condition to be set up in Palo Alto, California. The car in the Bronx was attacked within minutes of its abandonment. Zimbardo noted that the first "vandals" to arrive were a family – a father, mother and a young son – who removed the radiator and battery. Within twenty-four hours of its abandonment, everything of value had been stripped from the vehicle. After that, the car's windows were smashed in, parts torn, upholstery ripped, and children were using the car as a playground. At the same time, the vehicle sitting idle in Palo Alto sat untouched for more than a week until Zimbardo himself went up to the vehicle and deliberately smashed it with a sledgehammer. Soon after, people joined in for the destruction. Zimbardo observed that a majority of the adult "vandals" in both cases were primarily well dressed, Caucasian, clean-cut and seemingly respectable individuals. It is believed that, in a neighborhood such as the Bronx where the history of abandoned property and theft are more prevalent, vandalism occurs much more quickly as the community generally seems apathetic. Similar events can occur in any civilized community when communal barriers—the sense of mutual regard and obligations of civility—are lowered by actions that suggest apathy.

A successful strategy for preventing vandalism, according to the book's authors, is to address the problems when they are small. Repair the broken windows within a short time, say, a day or a week, and the tendency is that vandals are much less likely to break more windows or do further damage. Clean up the sidewalk every day, and the tendency is for litter not to accumulate (or for the rate of littering to be much less). Problems are less likely to escalate and thus "respectable" residents do not flee the neighborhood.

Though police work is crucial to crime prevention, Oscar Newman, in his 1972 book, Defensible Space, wrote that the presence of police authority is not enough to maintain a safe and crime-free city. People in the community help with crime prevention. Newman proposes that people care for and protect spaces they feel invested in, arguing that an area is eventually safer if the people feel a sense of ownership and responsibility towards the area. Broken windows and vandalism are still prevalent because communities simply do not care about the damage. Regardless of how many times the windows are repaired, the community still must invest some of their time to keep it safe.

Residents' negligence of broken window-type decay signifies a lack of concern for the community.